Economic development in Africa is underpinned by the quality and integrity of the natural resource base. The region’s environmental assets provide opportunities for Africa to achieve the objectives of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) and make good progress towards meeting the targets of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Africa cannot, therefore, afford to lose its environmental assets through degradation. Hundreds of millions of people depend directly or indirectly on these resources. African governments acknowledge this fact and have put in place measures to safeguard this valuable asset, including the adoption of the landmark Lagos Plan of Action in 1980. The Plan proposed concrete measures to address the interface between environment and development, and stipulated, among others, the need for African governments to define realistic policy options, strategies and programmes for incorporating environmental considerations in development planning.

African leaders established the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN) in 1985 to enhance regional cooperation in environmental policy responses and on technical and scientific activities to minimize degradation and to place a premium on the environmental goods-and-services which are essential to achieve sustainable development. AMCEN is the apex body on environment in Africa and has, despite various resource and capacity challenges, successfully provided regional leadership and environmental policy direction for more than 20 years. To continue doing this in a rapidly globalizing world, there is a need for a dynamic and strategic vision supported by a strong information base. Therefore, AMCEN continues to strengthen the Africa Environment Outlook (AEO) reporting initiative since its inception in 2000 during the 8th session in Abuja. The AEO is a flagship report which tracks regional environmental state-and-trends as well as emerging issues.

Since the publication and launch of the first report in July 2002, strategic planning within the environment landscape in Africa has changed. The environmental reporting framework at the national and sub-regional levels has been significantly strengthened and some 22 countries and five sub-regions have produced their environment outlook reports using the AEO methodology. The report had a major influence on Africa’s position during the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), which was held in Johannesburg in August 2002. It was also used in the development of the Environmental Initiative of NEPAD which was adopted in 2003 by the African Union as the framework plan for environmental programmes in the region. This is a clear link between environmental assessment and policy making of which we are proud.

Building on the momentum generated by the first report, AMCEN, with the support of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), has over the past four years produced the second Africa Environment Outlook – Our Environment, Our Wealth (AEO-2) report. We are proud of this report, which highlights the central position Africa’s environment continues to play in sustainable development, enhancing human well-being. It also flags the many opportunities the environment in Africa provides to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, greatly enhance accessibility by the majority to safe drinking water and improved sanitation as well as achieve tremendous progress in the implementation of the MDGs.

The AEO-2 report is the achievement of Africa’s institutions and experts, and is a further demonstration that Africa has the human resources and skills to chart its own destiny and realize the dream of an African renaissance. All that is needed is the political will and commitment to translate the scientific findings into action on the ground. I would like to commend all the experts, AEO collaborating centres and other stakeholders who, through their expertise and voluntary contribution to the process, have made this report possible and a worthy contribution to the body of knowledge on the African environment. It is my hope that this report will inspire decision-makers, at all levels in the region, as we pursue our goals of sustainable development in Africa. I wish you all good reading.